It’s great to roam Wine Country like a detective and find out what’s behind a bottling. Last weekend I stopped in St. Helena with friends to taste through some Orin Swift brands with an eye on the ever-popular “The Prisoner.”

The Prisoner is a trend-setter within zinfandel circles because there’s cabernet sauvignon in the zin-based blend. Blasphemy! Zin producers traditionally just don’t put cab in the blend and yet more have been following the lead of winemaker Dave Phinney, who produces the provocative Prisoner.

Here’s the interesting behind the scenes nugget: The label on The Prisoner is a take off of a painting by Francisco Goya, the Spanish romantic painter. When Phinney was about 13 he apparently was given a Goya sketch as a birthday present from parents, both university professors in the Los Angeles area. Bryan Sandoli, the general manager who walked us through the tasting, said “Dave jokes that other kids were given skate boards at that age and he was given a Goya sketch.” That said, Sandoli said, Dave treasures it now.

If you’re curious as to the taste of The Prisoner … the 2008 Red Wine at $25 is ripe with big fruit flavors and it has a great backbone and soft tannins. It has notes of cherry, berry, herbs and spice, and it has a long finish. (For more information, visit

Now…if you’re scratching your head wondering who the hell is Orin Swift, the man behind the Orin Swift brand, here’s the skinny: No one. The name “Orin” is Phinney’s father’s middle name and “Swift” is his mother’s maiden name.